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Moshidora – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Minami Kawashima, a female high school student, unexpectedly becomes the manager of Tokyo’s Hodokubo High School baseball team to help her best friend, Yuki Miyata. Yuki is the current manager, but due to her weak health she ends up in a hospital and might undergo a surgery. Soon enough, Minami realizes the team consists of talented players, but chronic underachievers. Minami then stumbles upon Peter Drucker’s “Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices” – a classic book on management techniques from one of the most important authors on the subject of business management. The book unorthodoxly guides Minami on how to administer the team as she starts to implement ideas from the book to manage her baseball team into the Koshien National Championships.

Based on the best-selling novel by author Natsumi Iwasaki, director Makoto Tanaka’s Moshidora presents an analytical and heartfelt exploration on the role of management and what it means to the entirety of a team as well as the individual. Based on the premise of a young manager directing a high school baseball team through the likes of management theory and practice, the film establishes a very unique perspective on the sports sub-genre, a sub-genre that as of late has been regulated to a series of timeworn tropes and stale narratives utilized to safely—and quite effectively—garner a specific demographic of viewership. These tired adherences haven’t exactly elevated the genre to any new heights though, resulting in just a perpetuation of formulaic conventions that aren’t exactly successfully promoting the genre to newer heights. Moshidora could be viewed quite differently though—with the film’s lead being that of popular AKB48 idol Atsuko Maeda, the film attempts to appeal to fans of Maeda as well as complement baseball enthusiasts—but does it ultimately succeed in doing both?

Perhaps the most challenging element concerning a film like this is the presence of a popular celebrity such as Maeda being the film’s lead figure. Many films in the past have delegated a pop idol as the main lead as well, often times with varied results. Unfortunately, Maeda’s role of Minami within the film follows this same course. One must note that pop idols, first and foremost, are not actresses but rather musical entertainers. While some idols have made the transfer from one medium of entertainment to another with relative ease, some are sure to stumble along the way. This certainly is the case here where Maeda gives a rather passionless performance considering the rather passionate nature of the film’s story. In a film where fellow AKB48 peer Minami Minegishi gives a more sentimental performance than Maeda herself, one has to wonder if her placement as the title heroine was applicable based upon acting strengths or simply popularity. With her only other substantial film role being that of her supporting role within Jun Ichikawa’s How to Become Myself (2007), Maeda hasn’t really been given too much to work with in terms of showing her capability as an actress. She’s shown her ability to act in past Japanese television drama series, but taking the lead in a film seems to be quite a departure for her—and it shows here. There is one particular scene in the film where an emotional response from Maeda was warranted, but she doesn’t quite come through, in turn making the scene awkward when it didn’t need to be. Of course, it would perhaps be a sacrilege to most AKB48 fans if Minegishi took the more prominent lead over Maeda in a film shared by both, but it would’ve provided the film with a more spirited lead. Couple this with the fact that Maeda sang the film’s theme song, and with AKB48 providing the ending theme, you have a film that borderlines on the archetypical pop idol meandering within a film’s production—especially if they star in the film. Fortunately though, director and writer Makoto Tanaka doesn’t allow the film to spend a majority of its focus upon Maeda, instead looking at the overall team structure and her influence within it. Tanaka seems adamant on addressing how a team can reach a goal through successful readjustments rather than simply promoting Maeda as the film’s centerpiece, a move that saves the film from becoming yet another exercise in pop idolatry.

This approach is where Moshidora stands as a very unique film dealing with the issue of baseball and team management. Far too often we view films concerning baseball solely concentrating on the follies of a team and their sudden transition from mediocrity to that of attaining superior skills—usually in a rather quickened and improbable fashion. While the film does follow a similar structure, its strength comes primarily from its implementation of authentic management procedures brought about by Minami’s reading of management consultant Peter Drucker’s book Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. It’s through this adherence of managerial influence that promotes the film more than simply being another sports-related narrative focusing on a team wanting to win, but viewed more so as an attentive and detailed observation on the necessity of quality management with a sports organization. Whether it’s Minami’s learning of what it takes to truly be a manager, to her application of innovative techniques concerning the framework of the team, these and similarly applied measures grounds the film in way that is both believable and authentic in its portrayal of a team attempting to better themselves. Although the film doesn’t allocate these measures beyond the realm of being superficial—Drucker’s book is far more in-depth than what the film showcases—it provides a sense of complexity to a subject that is often diluted down to simple knowledge and is a decision that should appease baseball connoisseurs. Baseball isn’t simply about hitting and catching a ball, and it’s a philosophy that the film handles quite well here.

As we rarely see this sort of transformative approach within a sports-related film, Moshidora stands out as a great example of providing some vitality to an otherwise uninspired sub-genre. Hindered somewhat by Maeda’s rather lackluster acting—a minor complaint given that this is her first major film role after all—the film illustrates the importance of teamwork in a sentimental and reasonable fashion. Here’s hoping that if Maeda does continue following an acting career that she can further develop her ability as an actress. While some viewers may be put off by Maeda’s and AKB48’s musical involvement throughout the film, director Makoto Tanaka allows the film to grow organically around its various characters, never truly abandoning the influence of all the characters upon one another for the sake of just focusing on one. With a conclusion that does rely somewhat on a conventional resolution in regards to character development, the film establishes a narrative that is as distinctive as it is refreshing to view since similar films haven’t truly attempted to break the mold in which they are sadly placed within. While Moshidora doesn’t necessarily shatter that mold, it does break away at its edges ever so nicely, making it one film that should especially please sports aficionados, and yes, perhaps even Maeda fans as well.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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Comments

  • http://www.gwern.net gwern

    Sure, but how does it stack up against the anime version?

  • Miguel Douglas

    @gwern: Good question. At the moment, I’m currently up to episode seven in my viewing of the anime version of Moshidora, but from what I gathered up until now, the anime series is definitely better in terms of Minami utilizing Drucker’s management theories. I still believe the live-action does an adequate job, but the anime version is more improved due to it not being limited to the time frame of a film – it just seems like a better fit given Drucker’s elaborate theories.

  • http://wotaintraining.blogspot.com Mina

    I have yet to see the film itself, but it is interesting that you thought Minegishi provided a better performance considering the character Minami was based on Minami Minegishi. The producers or casting directors did not feel confident enough in Minami Minegishi as the lead considering her lack of acting experience. Maeda Atsuko, who is more popular and has more acting experience seemed like a safer choice. I personally would not have been upset by Minegishi getting the lead because it was written for her and Maeda has more acting opportunities comparatively. I do not think she is a poor actress after viewing the music video for Flower. I would like to note that it is not uncommon for idols to provide the music for their dramas, for the big or small screen. This is most often observed with JE groups like Arashi.

  • Miguel Douglas

    @Mina: They really modeled Minami after Minami Minegishi? Wow, that explains a lot then – thanks for informing me. I thought Minami Minegishi did a much better job in conveying her emotions in the film than Maeda Atsuko did, which is something I truly didn’t expect given Maeda’s great performance in How to Become Myself (2007).

    I really enjoyed Maeda’s performance in “How to Become Myself” over this, which probably stems from Jun Ichikawa’s ability as a director over Tanaka’s.